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Marin planners contemplate Spirit Rock proposal

Marin County officials continued to wrestle with proposed plans for the Spirit Rock Meditation Center — even though the county staff says doing nothing would be worse for the environment than approving the Buddhist retreat’s newest plan.

County planning commissioners decided Monday they need more time to reflect on a new master plan for the complex and told planning staff to outline specifics of regulations limiting attendance at special events. Another session will be scheduled later.

“I’m wondering if we are moving ahead with this before we have the program written out,” said Commissioner Randy Greenberg of attendance regulations. “We don’t know the magnitude of the issue,” added colleague Wade Holland. “What if they get 25,000 people out there?”

A handful of special events over the past 20 years has attracted crowds of up to 1,600.

Although county staffers indicated that moving ahead with a proposal to relocate structures away from creeks and minimize grading would have less impact on the environment than proceeding with development plans approved in 1988, commissioners worried about how to handle crowds.

Jack Kornfield, one of the founders of the 410-acre Woodacre retreat…

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for those who seek Buddhist wisdom, said the center will limit daily attendance to 791 people, as long as it can hold two special events a year exceeding the limit.Commissioners seemed to agree that up to 1,500 will be permitted to attend two

special events at the facility each year, and asked staff to develop specific regulations regarding resource restrictions, traffic, parking, public safety and related permit issues. The panel said each special event would be subject to a use permit requiring a public hearing.
The center wants to relocate structures approved in 1988 but never built, eliminate temporary buildings and add about 6,000 square feet of new construction. The plan would reduce the number of residential retreat and staff units by 21 to a new maximum of 177. In all, the complex would include 142 retreat units, and another 35 for teachers and staff. Some 88 are already built.

Currently, an attendance cap of 315 people is in place, but the limit never has been enforced. Officials noted an environmental review indicated that even if 791 people were brought in to simultaneously jam every unit, meeting room, meditation and dining hall structure, stretching the septic system to capacity, there would be no significant impact.

Commissioner Katie Crecelius indicated planners were making a mountain out of a mole hill. “I actually think this isn’t such a big deal,” she said. “There is a very competent list of mitigation measures. … It’s an exceptional negative declaration (of environmental impact) for a project that is going to improve the environment at Spirit Rock.”

Several neighbors, citing traffic and related concerns, begged to differ, including Jean Berensmeier, head of the San Geronimo Valley Planning Group. She called the new plan “excessive” and contended the popular retreat is more than neighbors bargained for.

But Taylor Hamblett, head of the San Geronimo Valley Stewards, another valley group, called the plan a big improvment. “This is asking to do what already has been approved, better,” he said.

Contact Nels Johnson via e-mail at ij.civiccenter@gmail.com

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